Around the world and back again
For many, the transition from junior high to high school may seem daunting. Caroline Mascardo ’22 shares her experience making this transition halfway around the world and back again.
May 28, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to remove the misuse of the words racism and mzungu. In a previous version of the article, the word “racism” was used instead of the word “prejudice.” Mzungu was incorrectly defined as having a derogatory meaning, when it’s definition only refers to people of European descent. The WSS regrets these errors.
New teachers. New buildings. New students. While moving to a new school is challenging for any student, Caroline Mascardo ’22 added another layer of difficulty: transferring to a school 8,188 miles away from Iowa City.In the fall of 2018, Caroline traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, a city with over 3.5 million residents, to study abroad. During her visit, Caroline lived with her aunt and uncle who worked for the United Nations and lived there for a few years prior to her coming. Caroline’s mom, Lori Mascardo, was a little apprehensive at first about her daughter studying abroad as a freshman; however, she knew that it would be a worthwhile experience.
“We felt that this was a great opportunity for Caroline to spread her wings and gain some amazing insight and knowledge,” Lori said. “Spending a trimester [in Kenya] was a compromise. In the end, it seems like it was just the right duration for her to study and gain experience living abroad and away from her immediate family.”
In Nairobi, Caroline enrolled at a private Christian school called Rosslyn Academy. Since Rosslyn is an international high school, she was exposed to a very diverse group of students and became friends with people from countries like Mauritius, Somalia, South Korea and Russia. In addition to meeting kids from over 60 different countries, Caroline also encountered students born in the United States that moved to Kenya early on in their lives.
Many students that Caroline met were involved in Model UN and planned to pursue a career in law. At Rosslyn, Caroline had the opportunity to discuss world issues and develop a global perspective on the topics.
“It was so cool to meet so many different people of different backgrounds, but overall, we all had very similar ideals,” Caroline said. “I thought that was interesting, because I thought going there that they’d have totally different ideas than me, but really once I got to know them, we’re all just the same deep down.”
From an academic standpoint, Caroline felt that her transition from junior high school to high school was manageable because Rosslyn followed a similar curriculum to the ICCSD. Caroline found that it was sometimes difficult to make friends at Rosslyn because many friend groups had already formed before she came.
Outside of school, Caroline experienced a bigger culture shock. For example, Caroline had never previously lived in a place that had experienced recent terrorist attacks. Living in Nairobi opened her eyes to other facets of life.
“There was the slum Kibera which is the largest [slum] in eastern Africa, and it was really eye-opening to see poverty in real life,” Caroline said. “I wasn’t expecting to see that, but I’m thankful, because I’ve been sheltered most of my life.”
Caroline’s aunt and uncle made an effort to expose her to more of Kenya.
“We took this one-week-long field trip through school where we went to the countryside and painted a high school. We were traveling all around Kenya to experience not just Nairobi but trying to understand the country as a whole.”
While in Kenya, Caroline visited tea plantations, walked through art galleries, went on safaris and drove to the coast. During her excursions, she learned more about the local culture and met people from all walks of life.
“Out in the countryside, it was interesting because a lot of the children and even adults there had never seen white people or people of other races before in their lives,” Caroline said. “[The children] ran away from us at first and then tugged on our hair because, you know, it’s different, and they were poking us all over.”
Other than being in a completely different country, one of the biggest differences in studying abroad for Caroline was living without her parents.
“It was really difficult for me at the start, because I was so used to having two very reliable parents always there for me, guiding me through everyday life,” Caroline said. “At the same time, I think I learned a lot about myself, because I was on my own so much. I sort of had to figure things out for myself.”
After a trimester in Kenya, Caroline started to feel homesick and officially started her high school career at West High a few days into second trimester.
“It was definitely difficult. It was almost like starting high school twice,” Caroline said.
Though Caroline was familiar with West, jumping back into her old friendships sometimes proved to be challenging, as many people had already formed new groups of friends, and teachers had learned how students interacted in the classroom.
“It took a very long time [to get fully adjusted], and it was very difficult because I felt so isolated from everybody else,” Caroline said. “But I sort of just stuck to the things that I had done before. I played tennis a lot, and when I transitioned back, a lot of my tennis friends hadn’t changed. Then I kept doing violin, so it was great to see those friends again.”
According to French teacher Sydney McDermott, Caroline is “thriving in the classroom” during her third trimester. The summer before Caroline left for Kenya, McDermott met with Caroline to help her with the material she would miss during her time abroad. McDermott believes that since coming to West, Caroline has transitioned well.
“I think that she’s an incredibly well-rounded child who adapts to new situations well,” McDermott said. “I don’t think she necessarily needed my help, maybe she just needed my support.”
Though Caroline’s study abroad experience had its fair share of hardships, Caroline believes it was successful in giving her a new perspective and reaffirming her plans for the future.
“Later in life, I want to travel around the world, help as many people as I can, and maybe go into law. I think the most important things I learned [while studying abroad] are to be considerate and empathetic of others and not take certain things for granted,” Caroline said. “I’m so thankful for the experience. Even though certain aspects were really difficult, I think it’s helped me grow as a person.”